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Great Barrington town meeting votes to rename middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois; session continued to Tuesday night

Monday night’s resounding vote in favor of naming the middle school after Du Bois perhaps signals that Great Barrington is a different town than it was 15 years ago.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to include new information from town hall about tonight’s meeting.

Great Barrington — Annual town meetings in Great Barrington are often marathons, but tonight’s was so lengthy, so tortured, that it had to be continued until tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 7) at 6 p.m. Same time, same place. 

Before the adjournment at 10:10 p.m. in the Monument Mountain Regional High School Auditorium, the town meeting made history. After lengthy – at times impassioned – debate, voters overwhelmingly approved a motion to endorse the renaming of the regional middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois – scholar, civl rights leader, and Great Barrington’s most famous native son. 

( Click here to see the complete town meeting warrant.)

Several speakers, including three from Multicultural Bridge, noted Du Bois great achievements as a scholar and civil rights leader. A handful of others, including some veterans, objected to Du Bois’ late-in-life embrace of communism. 

See video below of the discussion of the advisory vote to rename Monument Valley Regional Middle School after W.E.B. Du Bois:

The renaming is subject to the approval of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, which declined to name its new regional elementary school after Du Bois in 2004 after community members objected. Tonight’s resounding vote in favor perhaps signals that Great Barrington is a different town than it was 15 years ago.

On other warrant items voters rejected a proposal that would have required the owners of short-term rentals (e.g. Airbnb-style arrangements) to register their properties with the town clerk. Critics of the proposed bylaw saw it as a “slippery slope” toward additional taxes and regulation. 

Voters agreed to allocate $650,000 toward repairs for the former Housatonic School, but only after an amendment was introduced to fund almost half of it using reserves rather than through borrowing. The other portion will be funded through the Community Preservation Act, as originally proposed. The CPA’s other funding items were also approved.

BHRSD Superintendent Peter Dillon presenting school budget to town meeting. Photo: David Scribner

Voters approved by far the largest single spending item — the town’s contribution to the operations of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.Click here for a report on the district’s $28.4 million spending plan, a rise of 4.26 percent from last year. Great Barrington’s proposed share is a little more than $16.7 million.

Voters also approved the town’s operating and capital budgets. The combined budget will rise from $11.37 million to $11.55 million, for an increase of only 1.6 percent. Scroll to page 19 of the warrant to see a breakdown of the spending plan and click here for a full Edge report.

Town Moderator Michael Wise opens the 2019 Annual Town Meeting. Photo: David Scribner

Also approved overwhelmingly was an advisory motion telling the selectmen to look into limiting the number of cannabis retailers in the town. There are five either currently open or in the licensing phase.  

Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon indicated those five, which have already negotiated host agreements with the town, would continue to be allowed no matter whether the board decided to pursue limits or not.

The proposed repeal of the plastic water bottle ban was the last item on the warrant, so it will be taken up on Tuesday night. Officials say all register voters may attend, regardless of whether they attended the first meeting. Here is an email sent from town hall Tuesday morning:

All registered voters in the Town of Great Barrington may attend tonight’s second night of the Annual Town Meeting at Monument Mountain Regional High school at 6 PM.
You may attend tonight even if you did not attend last evening.
It is very important that you bring your warrant with you again tonight as there will only be a limited amount of warrants available.
You will need to check in just as you did last night and will be given a new card for voting.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Town Clerk’s Office at 528-1619 ext. 3.

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